Dhanushkodi India Tamilnadu Travel

Dhanushkodi – Rediscovering the Lost Island

June 14, 2020
Written by Sebastian Rodrigues

Dhanushkodi is a long lost coastal city perfectly nestled along the southern tip of India’s mainland. This forlorn town once formed a breeding ground for a flourishing fraternity of fishermen. Let us browse through this comprehensive travel guide to uncover the forgotten town and its intriguing tales.

Abandoned church in Dhanushkodi

What is in the name? Everything special and unique about a small town from yesteryears. The name Dhanushkodi can be split into two interesting parts – “Dhanush” stands for a bow and “Kodi” refers to the end.

Millions of years ago, as described in the epic Ramayana, Lord Rama was fighting to free his wife Sita from the clutches of the heinous Ravana. Taking along a huge army, he attacked and defeated Ravana inside his own territory of “Lanka”. On their way back to India through the Ram Setu bridge, Lord Rama decided to cut off the link between India and Lanka. So he destroyed the ends of the Ram Setu that touched the Indian mainland with his very own bow and arrow. From this day forward, the name “Dhanushkodi” came into existence.

During the first half of the 20th century, Dhanushkodi enabled rich trade and commercial links between India and the neighboring country of Sri Lanka. However, In 1964, a ravaging cyclone destroyed the mere existence of the town when Mother Nature decided to flex her mighty muscles.

This long lost city also boasts of stunning shoreline viewpoints for sunrises and sunsets. The ancient remnants of architectural structures only add to the natural beauty of Dhanushkodi’s surroundings. With skies that turn effervescent with different shades of light, the city has all the perfect ingredients that a must-visit scenic tourist destination ought to have.

Dhanushkodi allures tourists from various parts of the globe thanks to its intriguing history, splendid natural charm, and significant role in Hindu mythology.

Fishermen boats at Bay of Bengal side

Perfectly sandwiched between the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, Dhanushkodi once formed a significant port for pilgrims and tradesmen. Local authorities operated ferries across the coastal waters to a city named Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. These boats not only carried export goods, but also travelers moving from one country to the other. Believe it or not, Dhanushkodi was blessed with restaurants, textile markets, and holy shrines in those days. Travelers, textile merchants, and devout pilgrims from foreign lands were attracted towards the charm of this beautiful city.

An Enduring Community of Fishermen

A newly built Church
A hut and a water tank

To the rest of the world, Dhanushkodi’s ruins resemble a tourist destination with interesting tales to tell. But, to the fishermen families that have survived here, the city forms an abode with ample fishing options helping them earn a livelihood. Most of the survivors of the cyclone of 1964 moved to Natarajapuram, a few miles away, to live life the modern way. But, close to 500 fisherfolk clans still reside along the coast without essential amenities such as electricity and restrooms. These strong-willed people personify what living amidst natural surroundings means, thriving on solar energy most of the time to create light, charge their electronic devices, or occasionally turn on the television.

Languages Spoken in Dhanushkodi

The local inhabitants of Dhanushkodi mostly prefer communicating in Tamil, which is the primary language spoken in the region. However, over time, they have learnt how to converse in English too thanks to the spread of education throughout the surrounding areas. In fact, some of these natives have learnt the tricks of the trade. To attract tourists and provide convenient traveling experience, auto rickshaw operators around town have picked up a little Hindi too.

Prime Attractions of Dhanushkodi

Thrilling Train Ride atop Pamban Bridge

Train crossing the Pamban Bridge

Pamban Bridge is by far the most exciting tourist attraction of Dhanushkodi. This rail bridge is an engineering spectacle that connects India’s mainland to the Dhanushkodi island through rail. It has endured constant corrosion from unrelenting sea water for more than 100 years. Where other bridges would have crumbled after 50 to 60 years, this rail bridge still manages to aid the people of Dhanushkodi with a connection to the outside world. All the more commendable is the fact that Pamban Bridge managed to even stave off a cyclone as devastating as the one that hit Dhanushkodi in 1964.

The railway tracks on this bridge provided connectivity between Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi back in the day. You experience bliss while onboard a train that passes the Pamban Bridge. This picturesque train ride allows you to view unblemished waters of the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal from close quarters. The train literally slows down to just 20 km/hr at times to carefully cruise through the longest rail bridge in the country.

A trip to Dhanushkodi would remain incomplete without a ride atop this one-of-a-kind rail bridge.

Mesmerizing Adam’s Bridge, aka Rama Setu

Adam’s Bridge, popular among local religious circles as the Rama Setu, is a sea faring bridge formed out of stones that float atop the aquatic waters. There are two aspects of this bridge: one aspect talks about its magnificent structural appearance and the other about its connections to mythological events.

Why Adam’s Bridge?

Adam’s Bridge is a naturally created pathway that has managed to stay afloat for millions of years. At first glance, this series of linked coral reefs almost seem like they form a connection between India’s endpoint at Dhanushkodi and Mannar Island in Sri Lanka. The scientific study behind these stepping stones observes that they are simply air caught inside silicon shells, which has helped them stay on top of the water surface for so many years.

Why Rama Setu?

The name Rama Setu was derived thanks to the significant references of this bridge in Hindu mythology. The sacred Ramayana states that Lord Rama asked Brahma to create a pathway to Sri Lanka so that he could rescue his wife, Sita. To create this lengthy connecting bridge, Brahma called in an army known as the “Vanara Sena”, a clan of clever warrior monkeys. Within five days, they laid down this remarkable stairway to the vicious Ravana’s den. Lord Rama then stepped into Sri Lanka, slayed the wily Ravana, and rescued his beloved Sita.

Picturesque Dhanushkodi Beach

Sunset on the Bay of Bengal side
Arabian Sea on the other side of road

To catch a glimpse of the wonderful oceanic waters striding endlessly along the horizon, you must visit the picturesque Dhanushkodi Beach. Sunsets and sunrises at this beach tend to create radiant hues of the color blue in the sky above. It is a remarkable experience to just lay down upon the white sands of Dhanushkodi Beach and drink in all the Vitamin D the mighty sun has to offer. The isolated nature of this beach allows you to saunter along its shores in perfect tranquility.

Make sure to munch on some healthy sweet corn or cucumber while you fulfill your travel duties. You can also visit the local market to get yourself a collectible. To etch the name of Dhanushkodi in your head, bring along a unique seashell artefact such as a handmade seashell necklace.

Refreshing Ariyaman Beach

Situated in Palk Bay, approximately 15 km away from Dhanushkodi, Ariyaman Beach is a perfect tourist spot for those who wish to soak in some sunshine. The welcoming sands of this beach extend across a 2-km shoreline. A lesser known destination, Ariyaman tends to provide a peaceful atmosphere wherein you can simply rejuvenate with family members on a picnic. Tourists with a liking for a bit of adrenaline rush can take up watersports such as parasailing and windsurfing over the pristine waters that surround Ariyaman Beach.

Remnants of an Age-old Church and Railway Station

Abandoned Church
A part of the abandoned church

Before Dhanushkodi was mutilated by the cyclone of 1964, the town oversaw proceedings as usual. People from the local communities offered their prayers at a 300-year old Roman Catholic Church every day. On the other hand, commuters kept hustling and bustling through Dhanushkodi Railway Station. Even today, the ruins of these ancient structures tell anyone who yearns to know an eerie tale or two of that fateful December mauling by Mother Nature.

The local auto rickshaw drivers even helped discover a marketplace that existed before the cyclone hit Dhanushkodi.

South India’s Farthest Point

At the end of the shoreline of Dhanushkodi Beach, Mother Nature manages to allow the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal to converge in peace. This is an exemplary feat considering how tough it would have been to have the calm and soothing waters of the Bay of Bengal co-exist with the violent and combative waters of the Indian Ocean.

The sea waters can get pretty rough out here, so authorities have restricted people from going too close to the convergence area. But the sheer accomplishment of having witnessed two water bodies this powerful meet in harmony is simply serene.

Best Time to Visit Dhanushkodi

Winter season is the best time to visit the gorgeous Dhanushkodi shores. The months between October and February offer perfect conditions for exploring this town, with rains merely non-existent and broad daylight conveniently omnipresent. Summers also offer dry weather but the heat can be taxing while you explore the island. It is recommended to avoid traveling to Dhanushkodi in the monsoons as the heavy rainfall and high tide create a menacing environment.

How to Reach Dhanushkodi

The best way to reach Dhanushkodi is to board one of the express trains that cruise through the South Indian railway route. However, government authorities have constructed a road route filled with scenic grasslands on either side off late. Those who prefer luxurious means of transport can also choose to get to Dhanushkodi by air.

Owing to Dhanushkodi’s status as a “Ghost Town”, government officials have stipulated specific timings for those visiting the island. You can only traverse the island between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. So, plan your trip as per the set timings because beyond 5 p.m. transport options back to the Rameswaram Bus Stand are scarce to find.

Indira Gandhi Road Bridge, Tamil Nadu. Picture credits - Shoestring travel india

By Train

Dhanushkodi does not have a railway station of its own. The old railway station had been destroyed by the devastating cyclone of 1964. However, this town is a part of the larger island named Rameswaram. The nearest railway station to Dhanushkodi, Rameswaram Railway Station, is situated approximately 18 km away. This railhead enjoys excellent connectivity to other parts of South India, such as Chennai, Tiruchirapalli, Thanjavur, Madurai, and Coimbatore.

The best route to Rameswaram is through Madurai Junction Railway Station. This train journey lasts for about 4 hours. Onboard a train like the Rameswaram Express, you will have the pleasure of passing through the mesmerizing Pamban Bridge while on your way to Rameswaram. Once at Rameswaram, you can catch an auto rickshaw, a local mini bus, or a private cab to get to Dhanushkodi. It is a one-hour drive from Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi.

The tuk-tuk rickshaws allow you to travel on a shared basis, which turns out to be inexpensive. You can reach Dhanushkodi on one of these rides for about 400-500 rupees.

Tuk-Tuk ride to Dhanushkodi. Picture credits - Shoestring travel india

By Road

Those flocking into Dhanushkodi from all parts of the globe can thank India’s late Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, for laying down such a picturesque roadway to the island. In 1988, the Pamban Road Bridge came into existence, providing connectivity between Dhanushkodi and National Highway 49 of India’s mainland. This 2.34 km long road bridge runs perfectly parallel to the Pamban Rail Bridge of yore.

Tourists often hop off their vehicles when on top of the bridge to catch a glimpse of the trains gliding past the enduring tracks of Pamban Bridge. This bridge offers those who prefer a road trip with stunning viewpoints of the Bay of Bengal on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other.

By Air

Traveling to Dhanushkodi by air proves to be a huge hassle as the closest airport, the Madurai Airport, is also situated a whopping 198 km away from the town. You will have to get onboard a train or road-based transport to then commute to the island of Rameswaram. Once at Rameswaram, the local auto rickshaws called tuk-tuks can take visitors to their desired destination in Dhanushkodi.

Where to Stay

Dhanushkodi does not have any arrangements for spending the night around the beach. However, you can book a room at one of the many decent hotels spread across the nearest city of Rameswaram. If you plan to spend more than a day in Dhanushkodi, it would be feasible to reside here and explore the tourist spots day-by-day.

Luxury Stay Options:

  • Daiwik Hotels Rameswaram
  • Hyatt Place Rameswaram

Budget Stay Options

  • Hotel Park Plaza
  • Hotel S.R. Residency
  • Hotel NNP Grand

Busting a Common Myth - Is Sri Lanka Accessible from Dhanushkodi

The road to Dhanushkodi. Picture credits - Shoestring travel india

The neighboring country of Sri Lanka is by no means accessible from Dhanushkodi. Not even a single ferry operates along the oceanic waters that flow in the direction of Mannar Island of the neighboring country. It is recommended that you obtain an appropriate visa and schedule your trip to Sri Lanka through airways. Some of the locals even nurture a far-fetched myth that the stunning Mannar Island of Sri Lanka can be visible from Dhanushkodi during low tide.

Situated approximately 18 km away from Dhanushkodi, Mannar Island can never be spotted from the endpoints of India’s mainland.

Food for Thought

Owing to its coastal proximity, Dhanushkodi offers an opportunity to feast on sumptuous fried fish when around the beach. Imagine freshly caught fish from the ocean fried and ready to devour on a platter. Simply sprinkle a bit of lemon juice and throw in some onions to go with it, and you have yourself a mouth-watering dish. Apart from this staple diet, refreshments such as sweet corn and cucumber flavoured with masalas also sell like hot cakes around the coast.

It is recommended that tourists bring along their home-made food if they are not accustomed to outside food. The stay at Dhanushkodi Beach could be a long one, with several opportunities to capture the splendid surroundings through your camera lens. So it would be nice to carry some eatables along with you just in case you get hungry while gazing at Mother Nature. The closest city of Rameswaram does offer exciting culinary options such as the South Indian Thali. Presented atop banana leaves, this food item comprises steamed rice surrounded by delicious lentil and vegetable curry, with papad topping it off.